A Less Than Covenantal Covenant Partner
John Dorhauer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Mar 20, 2007 at 11:43:48 AM EST
Once again, I hesitate to use this space to further any ongoing animus that may or may not exist between me as a writer on this site and those who are threatened by what I write.

And defending myself from personal attack is not what I want to use this space for.

But the tactics that are used to discredit those who present the material on this site are a part of the larger strategy meant to tear down the denominations towards which renewal activists direct their attention and creative energy.

In a letter written by Rev. David Runnion-Bareford (Executive Director of the Biblical Witness Fellowship - an IRD related renewal group), addressed to "Sisters and Brothers in Christ," and sent to churches in the Pennsylvania Southeast Conference of the United Church of Christ I am personally and publicly named as inflammatory, slanderous, and inaccurate.

Although Runnion-Bareford has never attended one of my presentations, seminars, or workshops, he informs those receiving his letter that my "seminar" (the quotation marks are clearly intended to imply that it is anything but) can "only serve to deepen confusion, heighten suspicion, alienate, and divide."

While I will concede that part of what I do is expressly and unapologetically intended to heighten suspicion, I will argue that what I do is also intended not to deepen confusion but to erode the confusion that churches have about why they are all of a sudden being torn apart by dissension over topics that a few moths and years ago were of little interest to them; not to alienate but to remind all of our local church leaders that regardless of the divisive potential of any theological, biblical, or ecclesiological debate we must remember that as Christians there are ways to carry on debates without dividing the body - and to remember also that while one of those ways might be to intimidate detractors from orthodoxy into silence, this way is not the most Christian; and not intended therefore to divide, but to remind us that unity in the body is our most precious commodity.

What makes renewal activists and Bibwits like Runnion-Bareford cry foul so often is that over decades of meaningful debate, mature dialogue, and democratic procedures that honor the kind of unity in diversity that is the hallmark of a denomination he believes is apostate, his radical theology is still a marginal one in this denomination, and his constituency has never reached the critical mass needed to win a vote in any of our democratic proceedings.

And since democratic procedures have not produced any shift toward DRB's more radical opinions, nor any noticeable change of theological direction, he and his Renewal organization have aligned themselves with the IRD and are more interested in agitating in less public ways.

The perfect example of such agitation is this letter of which I write. It was sent to every church in the Conference and was neither addressed to the pastors of the church, nor was its coming announced to the pastors of the churches to which it was sent. It is commonly understood that if anyone from outside a congregation is going to communicate anything on behalf of the wider church - the pastor at the very least is to be informed.

Runnion-Bareford writes: "Divisions... over profound issues... are imbedded deeply in the life of every local church." This is very true - always was and always will be. He continues, "The painful decisions caused by these issues are not introduced by anyone outside the congregations." Well, this is a little harder for him to defend. First of all, the pain caused by these issues is less about decisions made than about a vocal minority who use material produced by renewal activists from outside the congregation to foment anger and dissent. This is precisely what our research has uncovered - that materials produced by and circulated by outside agitators is exactly what is fueling the animosity in the local churches.

Runnion-Bareford's letter is itself evidence of outside influence. Again, it was not sent to the pastor's - for whom the training event I lead was intended. They were not even aware that he was going to send it to their churches.

His next sentence is confusing, not only because of its grammatical inaccuracy. But I think I can figure out what he was intending to say. It reads "Indeed, an argument can be made that these controversies have forced upon the churches from outside the local congregation." I think between the words `have' and `forced' should be the word `been' - and the sentence would imply therefore what he denies in the preceding sentence. He says in one sentence they are not introduced by anyone outside the church, and in the next that they are forced upon them from outside the congregation. This makes for somewhat of a logical, as well as grammatical, mess. But I think what he intends to argue is that the denomination itself is forcing these issues on the churches, and that he, the Biblical Witness fellowship, and the IRD are in no way responsible.

I disagree. My research indicates otherwise. Anyone in our denomination can bring an issue for debate to the wider community. It is debated according to Robert's Rules of Order, and voted on accordingly. Runnion-Bareford and the BWF have probably been responsible for more of those debatable resolutions than any other body in our denomination. Neither he nor anyone else can prevent anyone from bringing their own resolution to the larger body for debate. When a group of churches in California vote to bring a resolution to the floor for debate - as they did in 2005 asking for marriage equality for same sex unions - then Runnion-Bareford can neither stop them from doing it, nor successfully argue that such debate is being forced on our churches from the outside. What angers him so is that an issue like this received almost 90% of the vote - and he lost. Badly. And he really believes this means that our church is apostate. Which then allows him to believe that he is authorized to employ whatever means possible to discredit such a church - including acting in clearly inappropriate, unethical, immoral, and non-covenantal ways in order to sustain his decades long attack on the denomination.

He is a walking, talking outside influence and renewal activist who has been empowered to attack a denomination that he loves - but loves only in so far as it submits itself to an orthodoxy beyond which he sees no alternative. He does not want democracy; he wants heterodoxy. Decades of democracy have only produced results he cannot abide. And when others stand up and challenge both him and his tactics, he can only conclude that they are divisive, bent on confusion, alienating, fallacious, and slanderous. He is exactly what the IRD is looking for, and they have made good use of him - and he them.


Is there a difference in understanding between you and David with re. to 'outside'?  Sometimes it seems unclear to me as to whether this refers to outside the denomination or outside the local church.

I appreciate this--
"unity in the body is our most precious commodity."--of course.  "Bibwit" I can live without.

btw, I am finding within BWF moderate dialogue partners.  We move toward Easter with hope; Christ's prayer is not futile.

by Don Niederfrank on Tue Mar 20, 2007 at 09:16:13 PM EST

when I use it, refers to any entity that is not a part of the congregation that attempts to influence its inner dynamics without invitation, notice, or without revealing its intentions, motivations, or agendas. It is important to make those final distinctions, because as a member of the judicatory office, I often bring to bear my own methods of influence on local churches. But never, never without the invitation of the leadership of the church; and never without disclosing up front what my intentions and motivations are. When a disgruntled member calls me and asks me to visit their church, I tell them either the council or the pastor must make that invitation. When I spoke over and over again, even with invitation, to churches struggling with the Marriage Equality resolution which we passed at General Synod in 2005, I always began by disclosing my own personal viewpoints about the resolution - with the proviso that I did that NOT to influence their own judgments about that, but so that they could make then their own judgments about how objective I was as the evening wore on. And I don't ever even write a letter to a church without copying the pastor.

I thank you for the question - it helps me realize that there can certainly be some ambiguity about all of this. I also would say that even judicatory officials who do not follow the protocol outlined above would be guilty of what I call 'outside influence.'
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Wed Mar 21, 2007 at 06:49:54 AM EST

Good words.
btw, would you just send me a quick email some time.  I've lost your address.

by Don Niederfrank on Thu Mar 22, 2007 at 01:27:53 PM EST

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